New telecommunications licences for Solomons business | Pacific Beat

New telecommunications licences for Solomons business

New telecommunications licences for Solomons business

Updated 15 February 2012, 12:43 AEDT

A new type of telecommunications licence is to be introduced in Solomon Islands allowing local businesses into the industry for the first time.

The class licences, as they are called, will be available by the end of April.

The authorities hoped the licences will lead to big improvements in the availability of internet services, especially in the rural areas.

Presenter: Jemima Garrett, Pacific Economic and Business reporter

Nic Williams, Solomon Islands Telecommunications Commissioner; David Leeming, Principal of Honiara-based company, Leeming International Consulting

GARRETT: Since the Solomon Islands Telecommunications Commission was established at the start of last year there has been a revolution in telecommunications industry.

The monopoly held by Solomon Telekom has been dismantled and mobile phone coverage has expanded dramatically.

While the new market entrant, PNG Telikom's Bemobile, has had its problems it is offering serious competition.

Now Telecommunications Commissioner, Nic Williams, is launching the next phase of his push to give consumers a better deal.

WILLIAMS: We are consulting on a class licence that fundamentally breaks open the telecoms market here in the Solomons because it allows anyone to come into the market and offer any type of telecom service, though if they want to provide radio they would have to apply for a radio frequency licence. But, it is the class licence that really breaks open the market here.

GARRETT: Internet services in Solomon Islands are poor and expensive.

Telecommunications Commissioner, Nic Williams, hopes competition from companies that take up the new class licences will drive prices down and increase the availability of services, particularly in rural areas.

David Leeming, a Honiara-based IT consultant who works with rural communities says the need is huge.

LEEMING: There are teachers there, people who are aspiring entrepreneurs, there are government officials who are trying to provide government services and so on, so we do need to try and get the universal access, as it is called, right out into the rural areas.

GARRETT: The idea behind the class licences is to let a lot of small operators into the telecommunications business.

Telecommunications Commissioner, Nic Williams, says local companies will be well-suited to the new licences.

WILLIAMS: Just because you can do a niche service. It doesn't necessarily mean that you have to commit to building a large mobile network that requires many millions of US dollars to finance it. People can do a quite bespoke service where they have a satellite earth station and maybe one or two terrestrial links on the ground and start serving a local area - a village or a town, a tourist destination. So the capital requirement is just that much less.

GARRETT: David Leeming says the class licences will improve internet services in rural areas and he agrees local companies will be able to provide those services.

LEEMING: It will make a big difference. Previously, with a restricted regime only the highly well capitalised, which were able to meet all the different conditions of the licence, were able to get a foot in. And, as you know, we had a monopoly which meant only one company for a long period. What this does is it allows any small company that meet the criteria, to innovate in many different ways and meet the different niches in the market and I think its really good because it will encourage an ecosystem of providers to emerge. And its all for the good, all building the market, working towards universal access, in free market conditions as opposed to fixed artificial markets, as you had when there was a monopoly. In those cases we still needed market access in schools outside of the capital but it wasn't possible for local companies to come into those needs - you had to go through the monopoly provider all the time.

GARRETT: David Leeming, from the Honiara-based Leeming International consulting.

The Telecommunications Commission hopes to issue the first class licences by the end of April and see new services operating by early June.

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